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General Guidelines on

Alcohol & Drug Policies

Alcohol and drug testing in the workplace can create some issues. Employers must take all practicable steps to provide a safe workplace and to identify and manage significant hazards in the workplace, but employees have a right to privacy and freedom from intrusion.


There is no specific legislation in New Zealand for introducing drug testing in your workplace. Instead it is based on a combination of case law and various statutes including the NZ Bill of Rights Act 1990, the Human Rights Act 1993, the Privacy Act 1993, the Employment Relations Act 2000 and the Crimes Act 1961. There are some specific industries where extra legislation does apply like aviation and the maritime industry.


In Maritime Union of New Zealand & Ors v TLNZ Ltd & Anor the Court said that employers may introduce a drug and alcohol policy to the workplace without obtaining the agreement or consent of the employees or union, provided it is lawful and reasonable and that the relevant employment agreements do not require the employee’s consent.


However employers should consult with employees and unions before introducing a drug and alcohol policy into the workplace.


What should you consider for your policy?


Here is a list of things you should consider for your policy.


  1. Pre-employment Testing. Will you do pre-employment testing? Will this be for all roles or just some? What will the procedure be for testing? What happens if the candidate refuses testing or the results are not acceptable? Will this also apply for internal candidates who are applying for a new role within the business?


  1. Testing existing employees. Will you conduct random drug or alcohol tests? What will be the process and the consequences? Or will tests just be conducted after accidents, or incidents in the workplace? What is the definition of incidents or accidents? Will you also have a clause allowing you to test if there is reasonable clause (e.g. where there is reason to suspect that an employee’s actions, appearance, behaviour or performance may be affected by drugs and/or alcohol)?


  1. Refusing or failing a test. Will it be considered serious misconduct if an employee refuses a drug test or their test is unacceptable? How does this tie in with your disciplinary policy? Will employees be sent on leave with pay or without pay if they are under the influence of a legal drug (prescription or otherwise) which adversely affects that employees behaviour, until the effects of the drug have stopped impacting on performance?


  1. Criminal activity. In the case of conduct which may amount to a criminal offence, will your company report the matter to the Police or other appropriate authorities.


  1. Prescription drugs. Must employees advise the company if they have a condition requiring the use of prescription drugs that may impact on their work performance? What happens if they haven’t reported this? What happens if they are having side effects that are affecting their work?


  1. Alcohol. You may have a clause outlining that the use, purchase, distribution or consumption of alcohol by any employee while performing company business or on company premises is prohibited under any circumstances. However are employees allowed to consume alcohol for at work events? Do these have to be on work premises or client premises? Does this have to be authorized before they attend?


  1. Reporting. Are all employees are required to refer any matter of suspected or proven alcohol or drug abuse? Who do they report it to? What is the process for investigating these reports?  


  1. Support. Does your company provide any EAP (employee assistance programmes) or counselling for employees who have drug or alcohol issues? Do you offer a rehabilitation programme, or will you pay for all or some of such a programme?


You may also need to have drug testing authorization forms for employees to fill in if they are being sent to an external provider for the testing.


For APPNZ members, the HR Resources library has some sample drug and alcohol policies for you to review so you can see what provisions companies have, and can consider what clauses may be needed if you are introducing a policy.


If you are looking to develop a drug and alcohol policy, we recommend that you seek advice from a qualified HR professional who has dealt in this area before, or an employment lawyer. Our Public Directory has recommendations on qualified HR Consultants, and Employment Lawyers.


: People Matter

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